As a sophomore in high school, Sherrod Crum ’23 founded his first startup venture, a nonprofit called Mission: Scholarship that helps underrepresented high school students navigate college scholarship and financial aid processes.
At the time, Crum was in a magnet program for students interested in medical sciences and did not think of himself as an entrepreneur. His motivation came from simply wanting to solve a problem he had identified among his friends and peers.
“I saw a girl coming out of my school’s college and career center, and she was crying because she was about to graduate but had no plan for college,” Crum said. “I was seeing a lot of people in my community who didn’t know what they were doing for college or how they were going to get there. I thought there had to be more information about getting into college and getting scholarships.”
Crum’s natural inclination was to try to solve the problem himself, and Mission: Scholarship was born. Six years later, the organization has helped students obtain more than $4 million in merit scholarships.
“I have an ‘If not me, then who?’ mentality,” Crum said. “I love seeing the impact we have on students. I feel like I can use this organization to help uplift students who want to get to the next level but don’t know how.”
It is fitting that a scholarship is also what brought Crum to Carolina. From Atlanta, Georgia, Crum visited UNC-Chapel Hill in high school, but saw himself attending college in a bigger city. That changed when Carolina’s Office of Scholarships and Student Aid contacted him to let him know that he had earned a Taylor-Williams Carolina Scholarship, which is awarded to students who show outstanding academic achievement in high school and strong potential for continued leadership and engagement.
“Really, [the scholarship] was a life-changer,” Crum said. “That’s why I’m here today.”
Crum initially thought he would study journalism, but quickly found himself drawn to the Kenan Scholars program within the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. He applied and was one of just 25 sophomores selected for the program, which explores putting the private sector to work for the public good.
“I was drawn to using business to solve societal issues,” Crum said. “I want to be that person who is a resource to others and who is pouring into my community. Social entrepreneurship aligns with who I am and want to be in this world.”
Now a junior honors student, Crum brings his entrepreneurial drive to solving challenges at Carolina. He founded the Black Entrepreneurship Initiative after he saw that there were no Black students participating in the Carolina Challenge, UNC-Chapel Hill’s largest business pitching competition. The organization hosts seminars on grant applications and investor pitches, as well as pop-up shopping events for vendors.
He has also started a consulting service, The Crum Advisory, that provides professional, business-building and personal development services to its clients.
Crum’s work has earned him several accolades and awards in his time on campus. He is a Harvey Beech Scholarship recipient, EShip Scholar and a finalist for the UNC MLK Student Scholarship. Reflecting on his experiences as a socially focused entrepreneur both in and beyond the classroom, Crum credits the scholarship support he received with helping him follow his passions.
“If I had come to UNC without a scholarship, I probably would have quit my nonprofit and not started all the organizations and ventures that I have,” Crum said. “I would just be focused on paying back student loans. So having a scholarship has given me the ability to actually pursue what I love and what I feel like I’ve been put on this Earth to do.”